Narrativity takes on new meaning and form in networked practices, through the potentialities and activations of many-to-many systems of writing and online expression. The correlation with open source thinking is that the collective narrative is a peer-to-peer exchange of ideas, information, media that leads to a synthesis of voices.
Collective narrative is the result of social engagement in a common thread: which can be traced back to the Happenings and open theater forms of the 1960s as referenced in Background Histories; evolving into the live networked events staged via electronic and broadcast media during the 1980s, such Kit Galloway & Sherrie Rabinowitz “Hole in Space,” a collective happening via satellite hookup between New York and Los Angeles; the seminal Nam June Paik “Good Morning Mr. Orwell,” united performance artists between New York, Paris, etc.
But with the World Wide Web, with its global reach and shifting to the many-to-many broadcast paradigm, the opportunities for collective narrative were profound. One of the seminal examples would be Douglas Davis’ 1994 “World’s Longest Collaborative Sentence,” an open source invitation to collective author a single run-on sentence in the spontaneously-driven telematic writing space of the Web just one year after its widespread launch. Another work by Jenny Holzer, the 1997 “Please Change Beliefs,” allowed the artist to author her well known “truisms,” aphoristic commentary on society and politics, in the collective realm, by engaging a worldwide audience to edit the truisms: confirm in the networked age that there was no longer such thing as “singular truth.”
In the 2000s, with the emergence of blogging and social media, the idea of collective narrative has become nearly ubiquitous. Here, the advent of database technologies such as the metadata of hashtags, catalyzed collected utterances with an urgency that is now referred to as “trending.” Such platforms as Twitter, an entirely public telematic writing space, has encouraged collective narrative forms on a mass scale, through the use of metadata to combine endless threads of discussion and commentary. While this may not be thought of as a traditional narrative, social media sharing and asynchronous dialogue constitutes a form of narrative that is connected closely to everyday social relations and creativity action. There is clearly a connection between the early forms of radical collective invention found in the work of Douglas Davis, for example, the spontaneous exchanges that take place in Twitter or Facebook.
For the artist, the possibilities of peer-to-peer authoring of the collective narrative is now native to our writing tools, such as Google Docs, Microsoft Word, WordPress, or the more experimental Pirate Pad, in which multiple authors can coalesce and collaborate on writing projects, sometimes in real-time. This radically alters the act of writing, from the singular activity of a very personal form of individual expression, to a collective activity that is highly collaborative: all publishable instantaneously either to a small, private group or in the public space of the Web for a global audience.